On the 21st of May this year, Epic changed the esports landscape when they announced a $100 million dollar prize pool to fund Fortnite competitions. No specifics were given as to the structure of competitive Fortnite, no dates were announced, and fans and competitors alike were left wondering what the first step in solidifying the title as an esport would be.
Our first taste of regular competitive Fortnite came in the shape of ‘Friday Fortnite,’ which was hosted by the competitive gaming site UMG (as a separate entity to Epics announcement). The format was simple: two teams of duos would enter a public squad lobby, and the duo with the most kills across two games advanced to the next round. It regularly featured the biggest names in the scene, including OpTic’s own Jack ‘Courage’ Dunlop, and on occasion, we got to see some of OpTic’s pro team in action.
Most importantly, the format was incredibly fun. We saw some of the best players in the world duke it out to determine the top pub stomper of the week, which produced hilarious clips and even downright incredible clutch moments. But the RNG factor of the format still didn’t sit well with some in the Fortnite community. The amount of times players would get swarmed by two squads or land and get no loot always left a ‘what if’ sentiment, especially when you factor in how random the base game is anyway.
With this is mind, Epic announced their Summer Skirmish series that would take place over an eight-week stretch, utilizing different formats, with them all taking place online. It offered the chance for Epic to test out what works best for both players and viewers, and hone in towards the finished project of an established competitive scene to match that of any esport in the world.
The first Summer Skirmish format was on a custom Epic server, closed off to the public and only available to invited duos, which was a mix of top streamers and pros. It featured Courage and one of OpTic’s professional players, Kenneth ‘Baldy’ Anderson, in a format where winning was everything, as the first duo to win two games won the tournament. This is where the issues began.
With no incentive to be aggressive, teams farmed up as many materials as possible and played slowly, edging towards the circle whilst avoiding unnecessary gunfights. This meant, when the final storm circles were approaching, there were 30+ people alive using lots of materials to build while holding plenty of explosive items in their inventory. The result? Lag. A lot of lag. It wasn’t a pleasant viewing experience watching everyone bounce around the screen backwards and forwards in a jittery motion, and it must have been even worse to play in. Twice, Courage died due to the lag in the lobby, as he was unable to move outside of the storm circle, and it left him visibly frustrated on stream. And who wouldn’t be with the amount of money on the line?
Ultimately Epic suspended the tournament after four rounds, cutting their losses and used the experience as a learning opportunity for future formats and tournaments, leaving the Fortnite community questioning the direction of Epic’s ‘Summer Skirmish.’
The second installment of the Summer Skirmish series returned to a format more familiar to the Fortnite community, as players in public lobbies hunted for as many kills as possible. This time however, it would be a solo based game mode, with players being awarded one point per kill, five points for winning, and a bonus 10 points for a 20 kill game. After 10 games, the player with the most points won the tournament. Simple.
It made for a much better viewing experience, as the audience could tune in to their favorite streamer and watch them go to work. Courage was OpTic’s only representative for this week’s tournament, and although he placed outside of the earnings, it was a format that clearly suited one of the best players in the game.
This format was unquestionably better than the previous week, as the public lobbies meant no lag, and it allowed the best players in the world to showcase their skills against the average Joe, which showed us just why they get invited to play in these tournaments. But was it really competitive? To establish itself in the esports world, Fortnite games need to pit the best players against the best in the same lobby, and well, that’s exactly what we got in week three.
Week three was arguably Epic’s most successful attempt at competitive Fortnite, and we finally saw something that looked close to an esport. The set up was similar to the first week of the Summer Skirmish: teams of two battled it out on a private server.
However this time there was a difference. The winners would be the first duo to reach 13 points across 10 matches, with four points being awarded for a Victory Royale, as well as two points awarded to any duo that racked up five eliminations. This gave the incentive for duos to push for kills, and although plenty of competitors remained in the latter circles, it was nowhere near as many as previously seen. Even then, people were still searching for kills rather than ‘turtling up’ and just playing defensively.
Epic also seemed to have sorted out the server issues that plagued week one, which made the viewing experience exponentially better for everyone, and made following the tournament easier. Add in the fact Courage was casting the event, and it looked like Epic had finally started to piece together everything they need for a certified competitive esport.
Although they have a long way to go to solidify their title as an esport, it’s clear to see Epic are willing to try and test everything to determine what works best for both the players and the community. So while they do, sit back and enjoy the rest of the Summer Skirmish series, because they’re going to be a lot of fun.